Social protection and living wage: two important pillars of Decent Work

The Belgian Solidarity Support Centres have carried out several projects to strengthen African trade unions’ capacities to negotiate social protection provisions and minimum wages. These experiences contributed to ITUC Africa’s Ordinary Congress, held in October last year.

By Maresa Le Roux, BIS-MSI/ACLVB-CGSLB, on behalf of the three Belgian trade unions

The Solidarity Support Centres of the three Belgian trade unions - the Institute of Workers’ International Education of the CSC-ACV, the International Solidarity Movement of the ACLVB-CGSLB and the Trade Union International Cooperation Institute of the FGTB-ABVV - organised a side event during the ITUC-Africa 4th Ordinary Congress in the form of a workshop entitled “The future of Work: A living Wage and Social protection, with attention for rights for migrants workers”.

The workshop was co-organised with ITUC-Africa and aimed at assessing unions’ needs to strengthen their skills and capacities to better serve and defend their affiliates when it comes to negotiate minimum income increases and social protection provisions. The conclusions of the workshop also served as input to the discussions that followed during the Congress. In the opening word, ITUC-Africa gave a special welcome to the Belgium Ambassador in Nigeria, Mr. Daniel Dargent, and thanked him to take the time to join this important workshop.

To base the discussions, representatives from the Confederation of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), Congo Trade Union Confederation (CSC-RDC), and the Confederation of Benin’s Autonomous Trade Unions (CSA-Benin) showcased some of their work on realising social protection and achieving living wages – a work that is achieved thanks to the support of the Belgian Solidarity Support Centres, as part of the Belgian Decent Work Joint Strategic Frame, co-financed by the Belgian Ministry of Development Cooperation.

Solly Phetoe, COSATU’s Deputy General Secretary, talked about their work that led to the realisation of a national minimum wage - implemented by law in 2019. They also stressed that the work is still going on because the legislated minimum wage is still a far cry from a living wage.

Talking about the situation in Congo, Joséphine Shimbi Umba stressed the instrumental role that social dialogue has played for the CSC to negotiate a guaranteed minimum wage for workers. The next steps will be to ensure that the deal is carried out and respected.

West Africa hosts many migrant workers. CSA-Benin talked about its engagement with migrant associations to help migrant workers access social security and organise into existing trade unions.

“A worker is a worker, no matter if he or she is a migrant or not, and trade unions must also fight and protect the rights of the migrant workers,” said Anselme Amoussou of CSA Benin.

At the end of the workshop, Chidi King, Director of the Equality Department at the International Trade Union Confederation presented the following main conclusions:

  • Unions must strengthen their knowledge and capacity to calculate living wages. This skill is vital to negotiate minimum income increases that correspond to the reality of workers. Minimum wages that do not correspond to living wages do not pull workers out of poverty.
  • When calculating living wages, it is important to ensure that the “Basic Needs Basket” that is taken into the calculation does include those items that are important for workers and their families.
  • Trade unions must defend and apply equal treatment to all workers, organising them as such independently of their status and nationality.
  • Data and research are fundamental to underpin trade unions’ call for living wages and social protection systems, and unions’ calculation of the costs of such mechanisms. Unions could link this work with the research undertaken by the ITUC on the means that disappear from developing countries through illegitimate financial flows, depriving these societies from important resources to finance progressive social policies and mechanisms.